By: Lara Winburn

Columbia was not supposed to be my home. I grew up in the Upstate, went to Clemson, married a fellow Tiger and don’t even look particularly good in garnet. But here I am 11 years later.

Our bridge

Our bridge

Over the weekend, the rains came down and the floods came up. The bridge closest to our house simply disappeared. Trees around us fell to the ground, the soil so wet that they just tipped over, roots and all. Friends who I hold dear and have collected here in this town suffered devastating loss. They swam away from their homes even though they were never really waterfront before. Friends I don’t know well (more the wave-to-at-Publix variety) have left their homes barely saved by boats. The stories of devastation are too much to bear sometimes, but there is another story too.

The aftermath

The aftermath

In the days since, all I have seen has been warm and loving neighborly assistance. We are new to our neighborhood (hence my absence from the blog), but Sunday night as we all feared evacuation and the creak of falling trees, we gathered in one kitchen. I watched as a full meal for a dozen neighbors suddenly, out of thin air, appeared. Straight loaves and fishes. Once it seemed the threat had passed for us, I gathered in my cow’s neighborhood, one of the worst hit in floodmaggeden.

There, I have witnessed men ripping their neighbors’ houses apart with their bare hands. My husband and his friends have emptied houses, all worldly possessions covered in something that can only be described as insulation/drywall mud (because the ceilings gave way and the insulation ended up on the floor). We have done loads of laundry in an effort to preserve everything from winter coats to smocked dresses that still had a chance against that sludge. We have spent hours delivering lunch, dinner, cold drinks, and the occasional beer to groups of helpers- their sole purpose to serve the need…whatever that need may be. Donations poured in. We mentioned we were making sandwiches or hot dogs or lasagna to serve to those whose stove was now sitting on the side of the road, and the deliveries rolled in. “I can bring salad, I can bring bread, I can watch all 11 kids,” were the words that rung out. As we walked these streets, armed with nothing more to offer than a cold drink or a sandwich, we were called “a blessing.” We encountered gracious families who had lost everything and were watching years’ worth of photographs dry on their lawn. With a smile and a thank you, those same people would point to other homes and ask, “Would you make sure they got some?” just as concerned for their neighbors as themselves.

The aftermath

A lasagna run

I tell you all of this to say, we were not alone. This was the norm. This is what the masses were doing to serve their neighbors and town – the people of Columbia and the people of South Carolina together.

I know this is not an unusual tale. We have all seen it on Facebook and even the nightly news. But this is not a story that gets old. Community should be celebrated again and again.

And with all of this, I know these are my people, my neighbors. This is my tribe. This is my town. And this is my home.

Why Drama Should Be Taught in Every School

By: Shannon Boatwright

Any time I hear of a school that does not have a drama department, my heart aches. Literally. In a lot of cases, school districts do not recognize the incredible benefits of the arts OR they simply do not have the funding to hire a drama teacher OR, to be honest, they don’t have enough sense to hire the “right” professional for the job. Being a drama teacher, arts integration teaching artist, performer, producer, director and huge drama-312318_1280supporter/lover of the arts, this is a hot button for me. Research has proven that the arts are a huge asset to ANY student, no matter what age. And drama, in particular, covers such a priceless span of subjects that any and every one can benefit from its riches. Meaning, the span of knowledge and experience that comes with the world of drama can truly improve any individual’s life, no matter what they want to be when they grow up or what profession they’re already engaged in.

I’ve done a lot of research on this; not to mention, every day that I teach, I see firsthand the benefits of drama being experienced and soaked up by my students. I’ll let the documents and quotes speak for themselves. Please take the time to read them, share them with your schools, your peers, and the leaders in your communities. Take note of the schools and organizations that do provide the arts on some level and see how those involved benefit from it. With the right teachers, instructors and leaders, all those involved with the arts will benefit, grow, and expand their minds and their hearts on some level! (Key word being the “right” teachers, instructors and leaders; those who are actually educated, trained and qualified to teach drama or any of the fine arts.)

This fabulous article on What Drama Education Can Teach Your Child touches on some fabulous points!

Some highlights include:


Gai Jones’, a theater educator with over forty years of experience, work has been recognized by the American Alliance for Theater and Education, the Educational Theater Association, and the California State Senate (among others).

According to Jones, Theater addresses the skills which benefit children’s education and development in five general areas: physical development/kinesthetic skills, artistic development /drama and theater skills, mental development/thinking skills, personal development/intra-personal skills, and social development/interpersonal skills.”

Academic gains aren’t the only benefits. There are the obvious ones: improved self-confidence, better public speaking skills, but Jones says students show other gains as well, such as the “ability to work with an ensemble in cooperative ventures” and the “ability to work through consensus and differences or obstacles to achieve a goal.” She points out that a play requires students to follow a time line, to use self-discipline, and to accept feedback. Studying theater can be a great starting point for careers such as teaching, law, and politics, not to mention broadcasting and performing. And the ability to speak confidently in front of a group is a boon for any career.


As a middle school drama teacher, I personally have had students start my class, come to me the first day and say, “Mrs. Shannon, I’m not comfortable getting in front of people, I’m shy and I don’t want to have to do anything in front of the class!” I always respond by telling the student not to worry, that I’ll never make them do something they don’t want to and that we’ll work together as we move forward. This relieves that intense stress they have and helps to lessen their fears. By the end of the first week or two, that same student is participating and doing things in front of the class. It never fails. Seriously. And I’ve had just about every kind of student, from a wide range of special needs students to the severely shy. Due to the way I set up and lead my classes, the students start to feel comfortable with each other, loosen up and then start having so much fun that they don’t realize how much they’re learning and that they’re conquering their fear of being in front of others. It’s a lovely thing to witness and be a part of. My number one goal with my classes is to help instill confidence in my students. And because I teach drama, I can do this.

The following link is a one-page list of the benefits of drama education. It says, “Research reveals the positive impact of drama on a student’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.” http://www.dramaed.net/benefits.pdf

Why drama? Here’s another fabulous link to check out: http://www.drama.org.nz/nz-curriculum/why-drama/

An incredible document written by Sandra S. Ruppert and published by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in collaboration with the Arts Education Partnership: “How the ARTS Benefit Student Achievement”. http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Publications/critical-evidence.pdf

The joy of the arts is that they can be integrated into every subject. In a perfect educational world, every school would have fine arts programs; and not just chorus, band and visual arts. We need to include drama into the curriculum. In fact, arts integration should be a part of every school’s curriculum. Students and teachers would only benefit; there are no negative aspects whatsoever, only the deepening of understanding. A perfect educational world that utilizes the arts may never be possible but we can at least create awareness. To those who recognize the benefits of, engage in and truly support the arts, bravo to you! And thank you. :)

Enjoy this short video!

My Final Summer Hurrah

By: Chaunte McClure

I was excited about fall’s arrival, but I had to make a trip to the beach before summer’s end. One of the perks of living in Columbia is you can get to a beach within two to three hours. I chose Myrtle Beach for my final summer hurrah. It’s familiar territory and there are plenty of things to do while you’re there.

Myrtle Beach

Since it was near the end of September and a few weeks past Labor Day, I figured there would be fewer beachgoers, but not so. It was in the upper 80s and beach fun was still in high gear! Why are families still vacationing? Isn’t school back in? Those were two questions I asked while people watching as we scrolled down Ocean Boulevard trying to find a place to lay our heads.

Myrtle Beach

No vacancy. No vacancy. No vacancy. We saw those two words in lights for miles. Again, I didn’t think Myrtle Beach would be flooded with tourists at the end of September; therefore, I didn’t make it a priority to make reservations.

Myrtle Beach

After about two hours, we finally found a place where we were willing to stay. But wait, it was just for one night. There was no availability for Saturday night. That’s okay, one night at a time. At that moment I was just ready to rest.

Saturday morning we made a quick trip to the outlets. I thought it was quick; my husband might beg to differ. Next stop was Broadway Grand Prix because I was ready to speed things up and run circles around my husband on the tracks. I also took a swing at whipping him in mini golf. For 20 bucks we got to act like big kids and drive go carts. Then we played putt-putt. I confess: I lost! I lost on the track and the green. But I had fun and that’s a win for me!

Myrtle Beach

My whole purpose of visiting the Grand Strand was to put my feet in the sand and make a splash. So our next stop was the beach where we could see hundreds of sunbathers soaking up the sun, kids frolicking in the water, couples enjoying a beach walk and people collecting sea shells.

I never stay in the water long. It probably takes me longer to immerse my body all the way in than the time I spend fighting the waves. That’s because I’m trying to get used to the cold water.

Myrtle Beach

Thank goodness for a warm pool and a Jacuzzi. I think I spent more time there. By the way, finding an oceanfront room on Saturday was painless.

After all that time in the water (and heat), I was ready to fill up on crab legs. All I needed to find was an all-you-can eat restaurant with crab legs on the bar. I was in seafood heaven when we arrived at Bennett’s Calabash Seafood Buffet. I don’t know how many trips I made to the buffet. I wasn’t counting. I will tell you that I ate my money’s worth. Nom nom!

It’s always sad to see the last day of vacation or a weekend getaway come to an end. More memories were made and more stress was released. I look forward to seeing ol’ Myrtle again.

Change is Coming

By: Lara Winburn


I am not sure if you have missed me, but I have been away. I have been drowning in change. Since June 1st I have:

  • Resigned from a job, which felt a little like a break up since I liked my little work family. There was a lot of “it’s not you it’s me.”
  • Started a new job, which is a lot like a new relationship where you want them to like you and think you are smart and funny and pretty.
  • Sold a house (in one day). We were homeless for two weeks, testing not only our marriage and parenting skills but the kindness of our friends. (Thank goodness for generous friends and my cow.)
  • Finally moved into our new forever house…which is currently a construction site and our house. I knew it was bad when the electrician asked, “Are you living here full time?”

Times, they are a-changing. If I find out I am pregnant anytime soon my husband’s head may explode. (NOT that I am trying to get pregnant – that would just be the change that broke the camel/husband’s back.)

The funny thing about change is the impact it has on some more than others. To be quite honest, I feel a little unaffected by change. Change is hard, but hard is not the same as bad. Maybe it’s because my life is such a mess – or what I what I would like to call “fluid and changing.” I do not ever consider myself organized enough for the change to be felt. (Translation: When you are a hot mess you do not feel the storm when it comes.)

That being said, I started talking with other people about change and there are some folks with really strong feelings about it. Take my best friend – she is very “Type A.” She is tidy, organized and keeps notepads for making lists everywhere – in the car, kitchen, next to her bed and probably the bathroom. When she mentioned she hates change, I was not surprised. Her ship is always on path, so a change in the winds would be difficult for her.

But my husband is not “Type A” at all. Let’s call him “Type Z,” or whatever the opposite of A is. He also started talking about his struggle with change. It made me wonder about the man that carries as many clothes in his car as in his closet…why does change bother him? Maybe he is not the mess I am. He has always maintained that although he may look disorganized, he knows where everything is. After 16 years, maybe I believe him.

Does change bother you? Or will someone out there just admit that they, like me, have gotten quite good at rolling with change because they always seem like they are rolling along in a pinball machine of life. One thing I hope to change is my absence from the blogging world. I have so much to tell you about, as all of these changes are also many new adventures.

Sitting Pretty

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Since having my follow-up arteriogram in early September, I have been experiencing significant soreness in my hips, lower back and shoulders. I didn’t think that I should be sore from the procedure, so my sister and I brainstormed. Thinking back, the soreness occurred the week I went back to eight hour days at work. I thought I was sitting pretty during my staggered return to work, but Sister brought up a good point: it had been nearly six months since I’d sat at my desk for eight hours. I wasn’t sitting as I should, in addition to my body readjusting to sitting for long periods of time.

sitting properly

I did some online research and indeed found out that I wasn’t sitting as I should and/or taking appropriate breaks from my office chair. (From Greatist, here’s how we should be sitting at our desks.)

My biggest problem is that my short legs won’t reach the floor, so I tuck them up under my hips. Not the proper way to sit. Also, since returning to work, I’ve been working non-stop on the upcoming Green is Good for Business Conference and taking few breaks. I’ve now ordered a foot rest and back wedge, and starting the first of the week, I’m also setting an alarm for the top of every work hour to remind me to get up and move.

Here’s hoping that the next time I post, the soreness will be a thing of the past, like the aneurysm.

The Instant Pot

By: Leah Prescott

Do you often scramble for dinner ideas on the commute home from work? Do you try to plan the evening’s meal while standing in the grocery aisle at 5 PM? Do you find yourself stopping for fast food because there just isn’t time to defrost the ingredients to cook? If these scenarios sound familiar, you need to keep reading! (If I sound like a terrible infomercial, I apologize; I’m very tired.)

Instant Pot As I have said before, I absolutely love reading product reviews and time-saving tips and tricks. As a matter of fact, as a stay-at-home mom and homemaker, I sort of feel that reading blog posts, scouring Pinterest for recipes, and flipping through Better Homes & Gardens is just a form of continuing education or professional research….right? In the spirit of giving, when a product “lives up to the hype” I feel a moral obligation to share it with my friends. So I am happy to share a product that has transformed dinner time and taken a lot of stress off of me: the Instant Pot.

The Instant Pot performs multiple tasks and serves as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, sauté pan, yogurt maker and warmer. When I first got it, I immediately got rid of my rice cooker and my slow cooker, and I was already saving space. This thing does it all and it does it fast. (Please note I am just an enthusiastic consumer and am not being compensated by Instant Pot for my endorsement!)

I encourage you to read some of the many reviews online that delve into some of the nitty gritty of this appliance. For now I will just share some of the dishes we have made and loved over the last 6 weeks:

  • Baked potatoes: Done in less than 30 minutes, perfectly soft and moist.
  • Balsamic chicken: 5 minutes to prep, 45 minutes and done.
  • Beans & Rice: From brown rice and unsoaked dry black beans to a one-dish meal in less than 45 minutes. That’s right: dry beans and rice start to finish in 45 minutes! We have already made this recipe four times!
  • Mac & Cheese: This takes only about 20 minutes and is SO much better than instant.
  • Rice: Comes out perfectly and no monitoring the hot stove.
  • Ribs: Fast & delicious.
  • Potato Salad: Crazy easy and tasty. The potatoes were the perfect consistency and the eggs cook right in the pot with them! This was my first attempt at potato salad and I am happy to have found such a simple method.
  • Oatmeal: Delicious, quick and no burning the bottom of the pan while I am in the shower.

As the weather gets cooler, I will definitely be using the Instant Pot for soups and chili. The fantastic thing is that you can sauté veggies or meat right in the pot before switching it to slow-cooker mode. (That was always my gripe with my crock pot: I hated dirtying an extra pan and having that additional step.) Also, after you set the machine on, it will automatically switch to the warm setting when the cooking is complete. This thing really puts my old slow cooker to shame!

For me, the major drawback of this item was the cost. The Instant Pot retails from $150 to $260 depending on the features you select. (The newest and latest is Bluetooth enabled!) I was happy to find a deal on Amazon for an older model and now that I have used it for a few weeks I consider it money very well spent. Also, I am saving space, money, and time which is worth a lot! The Instant Pot is a game-changer for a busy family; check it out at http://instantpot.com/

The Great Tamale Project

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Of all the cuisines, Mexican is one of my all-time favorites. I love queso and chips as much as the next guy, but for me the ultimate Mexican dish is tamales. And they are hard to come by. Not many restaurants serve them and it’s even harder to find a person who makes them. I know. For years, I’ve wanted to learn to make them. I’ve always been told that they are soooooo hard to make. They are soooooo complicated. They are such a project that someone’s grandmother might make them for a very special occasion. So, I’ve merely dreamed and aspired to become a tamale cook for a very long time.

I came across an old 1980’s Mexican cookbook that a friend was throwing out. I scooped it up and there it was: a tamale recipe. I read it over and over again because I just couldn’t grasp what was so difficult about what I was reading. And then it happened. I bought a Boston butt and I made tamales.

I don’t know what I’ve been waiting on. I let others convince me that this was some insurmountable task. But here’s the news flash…it is not difficult to make tamales. At all. It takes some time, but it’s not hard. And, they were fabulous!

I trimmed the excess fat and cubed the meat.

Simmered on the stove with peppercorn, bay leaf & onion.

making tamales

Guajillo peppers are soaked then pureed into enchilada sauce.

making tamales

Look at this color! Shredded pork is mixed with the enchilada sauce. It tastes much better than canned sauce, for sure.

making tamales

Instant masa is super easy to work with.

making tamales

Spreading masa on the corn husk.

making tamales

You just spread and pat it out with your fingers.

making tamales

Top with masa with a little of the meat mixture.

making tamales

Then you fold the sides over the filling and tuck under the pointed end.

making tamales

Ready to spend an hour in the steamer.

making tamales

Steamer is all loaded up with tamales.

making tamales

My first plate of homemade tamales!

OMG! My tamales were fantastic, if I do say so myself! The sauce has out-of-this-world flavor. It’s so simple to make. You soak the chiles in hot water to soften them up, then remove seeds and purée them with the soaking liquid. Then you cook the purée with some garlic, flour, vinegar, cumin and oregano. Nothing difficult about that. The pork is stewed with some garlic, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. After it’s cooked, you shred it, mix with sauce and refrigerate overnight. Nothing hard about that. You also save the pork broth for the masa. Refrigerate that overnight so you can skim the fat off before mixing up the masa.

The next day, you simply mix the masa with warm broth, shortening, and baking powder until it becomes a soft, wet dough. You soak your corn husks in hot water for about an hour to make them pliable. Then, it’s just a matter of spreading out some masa, add some filling and fold. They steam for about an hour and then you are ready to dig in. The masa was so soft and tender and flavorful. This is key because even in restaurants I’ve had tamales with dried out masa and it ruined the whole dish. The pork was tender and that sauce, oh the sauce!

And none of this was hard to do. It takes some time, but anything worth doing is worth the time. My parents came to dinner and we all fell in love with the tamales. So much so that later that week, I made another batch. A double batch!